14 Interesting Facts about Machu Picchu for those Traveling and Volunteering in Peru

Last Updated: January 6, 2024

14 Interesting Facts about Machu Picchu for those Traveling and Volunteering in Peru

Machu Picchu, meaning "old mountain," was unveiled to the world in 1911. This iconic wonder of the world holds lesser-known facts that shed light on the Inca culture, offering valuable insights for those planning a trip to Peru. Welcome to the intriguing world of Machu Picchu's hidden details!

This ancient Inca citadel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-visit for travelers to Peru. Built in the mid-15th century, likely as a royal estate for Inca emperor Pachacuti, it served as a retreat and spiritual center. This post explores the captivating historical and architectural aspects of this iconic site.

Fact1: Location and Height of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, an ancient Incan city, sits at an average altitude of 2430 meters (7,972 feet) above sea level and spans an area of 325.92 kilometers. The highest point is Huayna Picchu mountain, which rises to 8,835 feet (2,693 meters). The city's impressive architecture comprises around 140 structures, including temples, sanctuaries, houses, and baths, along with approximately 100 flights of stairs. Both Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu mountains are part of the Batolito de Vilcabamba formation in the Central Mountain Range of the Peruvian Andes.

Fact 2: Historical and Cultural Significance of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is a Quechua word meaning "Old Mountain." It is presumed that it was built by the Inca Pachacutec approximately in the year 1460. The Intihuatana was built as an astronomical clock and calendar for the Inca culture. Machu Picchu was inhabited for only 100 years; apparently, the city was abandoned when the Spanish began their invasion. It is popularly believed that it was due to a smallpox outbreak, but the reason for its abandonment still remains a mystery.

Fact 3:  Reasons Behind Popularity of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, known worldwide since its discovery by Hiram Binghan in 1911, was already known to some Peruvians. It gained global recognition in 2007 when it was named one of the new seven wonders of the world, marking a significant milestone for Peru and Inca culture. It was declared a "Historic Sanctuary of Peru" and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Access to this archaeological zone is limited to the Inca roads, including the famous Inca Trail, or the Hiram Bingham Highway from Aguas Calientes.

Fact 4: Who Built Machu Picchu?

The Inca Emperor Pachacuti built Machu Picchu. Pachacuti was the ninth ruler of the Incas and probably built Machu Picchu as a royal estate for himself and his family. To this day, the actual purpose of the site is still not entirely clear. There are different opinions from researchers today, saying that in addition to a royal property, it was also used as a religious site, a shopping center, an astronomical observation center, and more.

Fact 5: Was Machu Picchu Abandoned?

Machu Picchu was abandoned in the 16th century following the Spanish invasion led by Francisco Pizarro. The Spanish conquest, coupled with diseases they brought such as smallpox and measles, likely led to the decline of the Inca population and the desertion of the sanctuary.

Fact 6: How Machu Picchu Was Discovered?

Explorer and researcher Hiram Bingham III, guided by locals, rediscovered the well-preserved and architecturally stunning site of Machu Picchu on July 24, 1911. His efforts, along with the support of Yale University and the National Geographic Society, revitalized interest in Machu Picchu.

Fact 7: Was Machu Picchu a Pilgrimage?

The ancient Inca Trail served as both a pilgrimage and trade route to Machu Picchu, connecting the Inca Empire with the sacred city. This impressive 15th-century path, approximately 42 km long, starts in the Urubamba Valley and ends at Machu Picchu. Today, it remains a popular route for hikers, mountain bikers, and horse riders, traversing fertile Inca lands.

Fact 8: Is Machu Picchu Earthquake Resistant?

Machu Picchu, located in Peru, a country frequently affected by earthquakes, is ingeniously built between two geological faults. This strategic placement by Inca engineers has rendered the ruins resistant to earthquakes, despite the potential risk of collapse.

Fact 9: Was Machu Picchu built without the use of wheels?

Machu Picchu was built without the use of wheels. Can you imagine that the Incas built Machu Picchu without the use of wheels? This means that they transported all the heavy stones from the quarries to Machu Picchu without additional help. Hundreds of men had to push the heavy stones up the steep slope, some of them weighing more than 50 tons. In fact, they did not use pack animals or iron tools for support because it was against their culture.

Fact 10: Was Machu Picchu actually discovered by a farmer first?

In 1911, Hiram Bingham found a painting in the Temple of the Three Windows that read "Agustin Lizarraga 1902," a farmer from the nearby town of Santa Teresa. Lizarraga unfortunately died in 1912 after falling into the Urubamba River.  Bingham is considered the scientific discoverer of Machu Picchu, he is recognized for giving it historical value.

Fact 11: Is Machu Picchu also underground?

The most intriguing aspect of Machu Picchu is its underground construction. Modern engineers estimate that 60 percent of Machu Picchu consists of underground structures, leaving only 40 percent visible above ground. These subterranean constructions are not tunnels, but rather the drainage system and the foundation that support the buildings atop this steep mountain.

Fact 12: Was Machu Picchu an astronomical observatory?

Machu Picchu served as both an astronomical observatory and a holy city, with numerous temples and sacred sites throughout. Recent studies confirm that most of its buildings are aligned with significant mountains, exemplified by the Intihuatana Stone, whose corners point to Salkantay Hill, Pumasillo, Yanantin, and the Sun Gate.

Fact 13: Part of Machu Picchu as Astronomical Clock

Machu Picchu's structure includes elements that function like a clock. Archaeologists have identified three main parts: the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Three Windows, and the Intihuatana. The latter, an Incan creation, served as a calendar or astronomical clock.

Fact 14: Machu Picchu had advanced water system

Machu Picchu's advanced water system was crucial for the city's survival. In the Cloud Jungle's hot and humid environment, the Incas faced the challenge of managing water to prevent landslides. They designed a 749m long canal with a 3% inclination and 16 fountains to distribute water throughout the city. This system efficiently provided water for all residents, even during the rainy season, without causing issues.

In a Nutshell: Interesting Facts About Machu Picchu

We hope this information about mystic Machu Picchu have been helpful for you to understand it more. If you are traveler or enthusiast to volunteer abroad, there are many trips you can join in Peru and meanwhile explore this enigmatic citadel surrounded by beautiful mountains.

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